For grateful NBC, Savannah Guthrie changes the subject

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Moderator Savannah Guthrie speaks during an NBC News Town Hall with President Donald Trump at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK – Savannah Guthrie did more than just display her journalistic chops at NBC News' town hall with President Donald Trump. She changed the subject for her bosses.

NBC was reeling heading into Thursday's event, under widespread criticism for scheduling it at the same time as ABC's town hall with Democratic opponent Joe Biden. NBC was accused of rewarding Trump for rejecting the debate commission's plan to do the second debate virtually.

That was quickly forgotten when the president sat opposite Guthrie, who questioned him specifically on when he last tested positive for COVID-19 (he said he didn't remember), whether he had pneumonia (didn't say) and his personal finances.

The Georgetown Law School graduate had clearly done her homework, seemingly prepared for each response. When the president recited a statistic from a study on the effectiveness of masks in spreading COVID-19, Guthrie had read it, too, and countered him.

As host of the “Today” show, Guthrie knows the importance of time and how to stop an interview subject from filibustering. That background also teaches how to crystallize what an audience is thinking in a plain-spoken way, as evidenced in her most-quoted moment.

She was incredulous when, after asking why Trump had retweeted a false conspiracy theory that American special forces didn't really kill Osama bin Laden, he said that he “just put it out there” to let people decide for themselves.

“I don't get that,” Guthrie said. “You're the president. You're not like you're somebody's crazy uncle who can just retweet anything.”

Similarly, Guthrie described the theory promoted online by QAnon that Democrats are running a satanic pedophile ring and that Trump was the savior meant to stop them, and asked why he didn't denounce it. Trump said he knew nothing about it.